Lemmy Amp Settings – Get His Signature Bass Tone!

Author: Liam Whelan | Updated: | This post may contain affiliate links.

Although Lemmy proudly declared that he didn’t want to “live forever” in the infamous bridge from Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades,” the man’s influence on music and rock and roll culture is undeniable.

Even now, years after the Motorhead frontman’s departure from this mortal plane, countless headbangers emulate everything from his gravelly voice to his signature heavy-metal-cowboy fashion sense.

I’ve often felt that Lemmy’s musicianship often went under-appreciated by other musicians. Perhaps it was the sheer volume and speed with which he played, or perhaps everything else about Motorhead simply overshadowed Lemmy’s powerful, melodic bass playing.

In this article, I’ll go over the key pieces of gear you need to make the infamous Motorhead sound.

Lemmy Bass Guitars

Lemmy, throughout his career, exclusively used Rickenbacker bass guitars. The man, always concerned with his image, thought they looked cooler than other basses. Besides, he said, “If you get one that looks good, you can always mess with the pickups if it sounds bad.”

Lemmy’s bass tone was as throaty and growling as the man’s singing voice. As Motorhead’s music remained consistent over the years, so, too, did his bass sound. The core of that sound, a mid-forward heavily overdriven tone, was Lemmy’s Rickenbacker 4001 bass.

His first Rickenbacker came courtesy of Lemmy’s time in Hawkwind, but the bright, powerful sound of the instrument became a personal signature for Lemmy, and for Motorhead.

For most of Motorhead’s later career, he played a heavily customized signature model.

Rickenbacker basses aren’t exactly easy to find, but when Lemmy wasn’t playing a Rickenbacker, he dabbled in a similar instrument: the Gibson Thunderbird.

You can find an Epiphone Thunderbird as a reasonably-priced alternative to the Rickenbacker or a Gibson Thunderbird.

Lemmy himself preferred a thicker sound to that of most bass players and often put aftermarket humbuckers into his basses. He had a signature set of Seymour Duncan bass humbuckers for a time, so I’d recommend adding the Seymour Duncan Rickenbacker set to a Rick-style bass.

Lemmy actually put a Thunderbird pickup in his Rickenbacker basses in the 1970s, so you can probably get away with simply using the stock Thunderbird pickups in a Gibson-style bass.

Lemmy Bass Amps

Lemmy’s taste in amplifiers was as loyal as his taste in guitars, or his legions of fans. Lemmy played Marshall amps. That’s more or less the entire story: he dabbled in other amplifiers during the Hawkwind years, but Motorhead was a Marshall band.

Lemmy originally used Marshall Super Bass amps, and was even issued a signature model by Marshall when he was still alive.

Unfortunately, Marshall amplification has not dabbled in bass amplifiers for some time now, so barring a Super Bass reissue in the near future, we’ll have to look elsewhere.

You could just play, as so many bass players did, through a Plexi, and get a similar tone, but you risk damaging the amp when running Motorhead levels of volume.

To get into the ballpark of a big, bold British amp sound, I’d recommend trying the Orange Terror Bass. It isn’t voiced exactly like a Marshall, but will offer similar levels of overdrive and classic tube tone.

Another option is to look at Blackstar’s lineup of bass amps, including their 700-watt head and Unity combo series. These are solid-state amps, so they won’t overdrive quite like a Marshall. However, you could use these or a Gallien-Krueger style amp with a Marshall-style drive to emulate this sound.

Lemmy Amp Settings

Lemmy’s approach to setting his amplifier is best epitomized by the classic Motorhead credo: “everything louder than everyone else.”

Lemmy didn’t mess around with fine-tuned EQing or tone-sculpting. He cranked the knobs he wanted to crank, ignored the others, and let the music do the rest.

Infamously, Lemmy turned his bass and treble knobs all the way down, and his midrange knob all the way up, to add definition and shape to his tone. His bass tone never sounded much like a bass: he often described himself as a “low guitarist.”

Volume: 10

Lemmy played loud. Very loud. Pain-threshold loud. You need this kind of volume to get the Motorhead sound, and there’s really no substitute for the sound of tubes reaching poweramp saturation.

Bass: 0

Turn your low end all the way down.

Mids: 10

Turn your midrange all the way up for this tone so your drones and chords have shape and character.

Treble: 0

Turn your treble all the way down and let your pick attack do the rest.

Presence: 10

You want as much presence and authority as possible for this tone, so run your Presence at full power.

Lemmy Effects

Lemmy used no effects for his bass playing. If you watch Motorhead live, you’ll see that he never raises a foot to stamp on a stompbox. Most of his tone came from his bass, his amp, and his playing style.

However, if you’re running a solid-state amplifier or one that doesn’t sound like a Marshall, I would recommend adding a Marshall-style overdrive to your setup as the sole effect in the mix.

My choice for the Marshall-in-a-box effect is the Catalinbread Dirty Little Secret.

Lemmy Technique

The most important thing to understand about Lemmy’s tone is how much of it came from his playing style. Lemmy played bass entirely unlike most players, and is one of the most influential bassists in heavy music.

To sound like Lemmy, you must play like Lemmy.

First of all, use your bass’s bridge pickup exclusively. Use a heavy, hard pick, and pick near the bridge of your bass to maximize treble and definition.

If you listen carefully to Lemmy’s playing, you’ll hear that he often allowed the A or E string to drone while he played fretted notes on the D or G strings. Lemmy would often play two- or three-note chords on his bass further up the beck. For example, listen to all of the No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith album in full.

Final Word

As a huge Motorhead fan, I strongly encourage all bass players to dabble in some of Lemmy’s playing style and gear choices. His tone proves that most of the time, great sounds come from our fingers and note choices. A simple Rickenbacker and Marshall are all you need to get in the zone.

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About Liam Whelan

Liam Whelan was raised in Sydney, Australia, where he went to university for long enough to realize he strongly prefers playing guitar in a rock band to writing essays. Liam spends most of his life sipping strong coffee, playing guitar, and driving from one gig to the next. He still nurses a deep conviction that Eddie Van Halen is the greatest of all time, and that Liverpool FC will reclaim the English Premier League title.

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